The Dangers of Physician-Assisted Death

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduces the “Death With Dignity Act of 2015.” (Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post)
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduces the “Death With Dignity Act of 2015.” (Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post)

Politicians in the nation’s capital will vote this week on a physician-assisted death bill, a measure that cuts to the core of human nature, dignity and civilization.

If it passes, the bill would allow a competent adult patient who has been diagnosed with an illness that will be fatal within six months (who is not under readily identifiable coercion and is not clinically depressed) to request and receive a prescription from a licensed D.C. physician and D.C. pharmacist to end the patient’s life.

The D.C. Death With Dignity Act of 2015 is patterned after a 1997 law in Oregon, and, buoyed by the recent passage of a similar measure in California, the bill’s proponents are confident that it will pass.

The proposed legislation, which enjoyed the endorsement of The Washington Post’s editorial board, is slated to go to committee vote Wednesday. If the legislation is approved by a majority committee vote, the council is expected to vote on it as a whole in the weeks ahead.

As a doctor and as a theologian, the ethical dimensions of this bill must be considered in light of medical practice, as well as more foundational beliefs about the nature and value of human dignity.

The most vocal proponents of the bill include the patients’ rights advocacy group Compassion and Choices. The group has called for a formal structuring of an aid-in-dying practice guideline as part of a program they see as nationally desirable and inevitable, despite the medical establishment’s long-standing opposition to the practice.

The group’s agenda centers on the patient’s right of autonomy as the sole determinant of action and on the assumption that dying patients have inadequate choices available to them as they prepare for death.

But the proposed legislation is fundamentally flawed and out of touch with normative ethical medical and public-policy decisions.

Advocates suggest that dying patients don’t really have a “choice,” an idea that is simply uninformed. In fact, programs already exist for the terminally ill in the form of hospice, palliative care and intensive care — all of which provide excellent care, and prevention and alleviation of suffering.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post
Allen Roberts and Scott Redd

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